Vanashri: The Forest Angel

On a 4 km road between Kudur and Hulikal in Karnataka, India, is an avenue of tall and graceful peepul (Ficus religiosa) trees. The 254 living sentinels provide welcome shade for travelers and shelter to a riot of birds. They prevent soil erosion and are crucial for the environmental balance, as well as providing oxygen for humans. Yet fifty years ago the road was hot, dry and dusty without the shade of a single tree. The transformation of the landscape and microclimate is not the work of the Forest Department or even the result of a community non-profit reforestation project. It is the result of the efforts of two lone individuals, Thimmakka and her late husband Chikkaiah.

Thimmakka, sprightly in the arms of her babies!

The story begins 45 years ago when two landless laborers were wondering what to do with their life, which was not only hard, but also lonely. They were childless. Additionally, Chikkaiah had a stammer. This made them the butt of the other villagers. One day, they simply decided to plant trees. They chose the road between Kudur and Hulikal, which was hot and dry, but often used by the villagers. They raised peepul saplings in a nursery, and planted them with the protection of thorn guards on either side of the road.

Of course, it is not difficult to plant a tree. What is difficult is protecting and nurturing it until it is strong enough to survive most odds. Thimmakka and Chikkaiah watered the plants every day until they were established, then three days a week for a year, and subsequently every week until they were ten years old. Every day they would set out with two pots each, filling and refilling them on the way. It took 40-50 pots a day to water the plants. Each year they planted 15-20 plants until they covered the stretch of road between Kudur and Hulikal. Chikkaiah stopped working in order to look after the trees, and he did this until his death in 1990. Finally in 1995, Thimmakka’s selfless work was recognized and she was given the National Citizen’s Award. The Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra (“Forest Friend”) Award followed in 1997.

Today, at the age of 109, Thimmakka takes active part in tree planting and eco-conservation programs organized by the local government or an NGO in her area. She has become a media champion of afforestation. Her favorite activity is to educate children on afforestation and social duties through songs and stories.

Thimmakka may be contacted at: Saalumarada Thimmakka, Hulikal 561 101, Kudur Hobli, Magadi Taluk, Bangalore Rural District.

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